“You’ve come a long way, baby” is more than just a classic advertising slogan. It’s a phrase describing the innovation trajectory that inclusions have enjoyed in recent decades in the food industry. Inclusions have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time. We’re talking about those nuts, fruits, chips, candies, seeds and more that add texture, flavor and craveability to foods like ice cream, chocolate, baked goods and yogurt.
Although it’s difficult to pinpoint the first use of inclusions in food products (candy bar makers have been using peanuts for decades), inclusions really began to lift off in the 1970s and 1980s with ice cream product innovation. New York, N.Y.-based Steve’s Ice Cream claims to have pioneered the use of innovative “mix-ins” like Heath Bar Crunch in 1973 when it says that consumers would form lines—even during snowstorms—for a crack at the ice cream shop’s novel mix-in ice cream.
The inclusion concept really caught fire in 1984 when Ben & Jerry’s (then boutique ice cream maker) debuted Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream. This triumph of the inclusion concept came from an anonymous flavor suggestion by a consumer at one of Ben & Jerry’s first scoop shops. Ben & Jerry’s ran with the idea and the rest, as they say, is history.
Inclusions have evolved since then and flavor inspiration today can come from almost anywhere including baked goods, candies, snacks and beverages. Regardless of the source, consumers crave new and different taste experiences. According to Datamonitor Consumer (now integrated into Canadean), 23% of consumers globally say they often experiment with buying new cake and pastry flavors, per a 2014 global survey. One-fifth or more of global consumers say the same about ice cream and chocolate products.
The good news is that consumers are getting plenty of inclusion-based flavor novelty to satisfy the urge to try something new. The inclusion star of the moment in ice cream is speculoos, the Dutch/Belgian shortbread cookie with a spicy, gingerbread-like flavor that Trader Joe’s put on the map in 2012 with its Speculoos Cookie Butter spread.
Speculoos has been turning heads and winning fans with products like Steve’s Speculoos Cookie Butter frozen dessert, which is loaded with pieces of speculoos cookies. The launch earned a 2015 sofi Award for specialty food innovation at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York, N.Y. Coconut cream based, the frozen dessert is dairy-free and should appeal to vegan consumers eager to sample the latest inclusion trend.
Other brands experimenting with speculoos include Ben & Jerry’s with its Cookie Core line and Spectacular Speculoos Cookie flavor that debuted earlier this year. Spectacular Speculoos is a dark caramel and vanilla ice cream with speculoos cookies and a speculoos cookie butter core.
Cinnamon is a key element of the speculoos flavor, and cinnamon itself is inspiring new inclusions in ice cream and frozen desserts. Snickerdoodle, an old-time favorite cookie that is rolled in cinnamon sugar, is the headliner for So Delicious Dairy Free Cashew Milk’s snickerdoodle flavor, which is described as a “cinnamon delight loaded with chunks of gluten-free snickerdoodle cookie dough.”
Unilever has developed a sweet spot for cinnamon and graham-flavored inclusions. In the UK, Unilever recently introduced Carte D’Or Cinnamon Biscuit Ice Cream featuring cinnamon biscuit pieces. And in the Philippines, Unilever added Selecta Mango Graham Cake ice cream, a vanilla ice cream with graham pieces and thick mango sauce reportedly inspired by a popular local cake flavor.
More dessert-inspired inclusion excitement may be coming. Holy Cannoli, an Italian-inspired cannoli flavor consisting of a mascarpone flavored base with graham cracker variegate and chocolate chunks, won Ice Cream University’s annual ice cream flavor innovation contest for high school students.
One reason inclusions work so well in categories like ice cream is that they add sensory characteristics like crunch that complement the sweet and smooth flavors that dominate the market. That’s why nuts are a popular inclusion. Indeed, Canadean’s 2014 global survey found that 17% of consumers tabbed the “nutty” flavor profile as their favorite type of ice cream flavor – the number three type of flavor selected. Dessert flavors were the global favorite for 39% of consumers surveyed with the fruity flavor profile second with 26% of consumers.
But nuts aren’t the only type of inclusion that can add crunch to ice cream. Pretzels are becoming an increasingly popular inclusion. iSwitch Gourmet’s new Chocolate Pretzel & Caramel Ice Cream Sandwich adds crunch with chocolate covered pretzels situated between two blonde cookies surrounding all-natural vanilla ice cream.
Pretzels can add utility and versatility. Littleton, Colo.-based Salti Sweet Ice Cream Factory’s Ice Cream Hugging a Pretzel uses a salty pretzel rod acting as an edible “stick” and inclusion for the ice cream novelty. A layer of vanilla ice cream drenched with chocolate and covered with sprinkles and nuts wraps around the pretzel rod.
Salti Sweet is more than just a flavor or inclusion story as the pretzel rod helps produce a “zero waste” dessert since the pretzel is eaten and not thrown away like a wooden stick is. According to Tom Cherrey, a Salti Sweet Ice Cream Factory partner, “millions of wooden sticks are wasted or thrown away each year in the US alone.”
Outside of ice cream, inclusion innovation is stirring in dairy categories like yogurt, which has traditionally welcomed inclusions like fruits and nuts. Sometimes inclusions can go beyond the usual to provide support for an innovative new flavor direction which is the case for The Chaat Company’s new Savory Yogurt Snack.
The New York, N.Y.-based company is introducing what could be the first savory yogurt line in the US in Indian flavors such as Cucumber Mint, Tamarind Date, Ginger and Mango Chili. A plastic dome on top of each yogurt cup is filled with turmeric-spiced lentil puffs that are mixed with the yogurt for a flavor and texture boost. Anshu Dua, co-founder of The Chaat Company says that the inclusion is a crucial part of the company’s drive to “try to extend an $8 billion market into afternoon snacking.” He adds that “savory is how most of the world eats yogurt” and “yogurt in India is not sweet flavored.”
Chaat Company’s lentil puffs inclusion can reportedly stay crunchy for up to 15 minutes in yogurt, which is longer than one might expect. The inclusion also picks on the major role that lentils play in Indian cuisine while also making a health case since lentils are naturally high in protein.
Cottage cheese is another dairy category that has seen more than its share of recent inclusion innovation. Good Culture Organic Cottage Cheese from Los Angeles-based Good Culture is one recent example.
Co-founder Jesse Merrill says Good Culture takes cottage cheese that “already has more protein than most Greek yogurts on the market” and adds healthful inclusions like Kalamata olives, chia, sundried tomatoes, strawberry chia and blueberry acai chia. Merrill says he intends Good Culture to be a disruptive addition to the cottage cheese market—a new line that could rival yogurt as a “super food.”
Inclusions may have a role to play in revitalizing another healthful but somewhat overlooked food product: fruit purees. Consumer interest in applesauce-type fruit purees like those offered under the GoGo squeeZ brand from Materne North America is growing rapidly, largely because of convenient pouch packaging. The brand is on target for around $200 million in US sales by year end and truly explosive growth may not be far off.
Household penetration for pouch packaged “fruit squeezes” as they are sometimes called is around 36% in France, but is roughly one-third of that number in the US. That gap could begin to close thanks to inclusion-based launches like Munk Pack Ready-to-Eat Oatmeal Fruit Squeeze from Greenwich, Conn.-based Munk Pack. This line uses seeds like quinoa and flax for its Blueberry Acai Flax and Apple Quinoa Cinnamon flavors that make a case for fruit purees as a quick energy source and satisfying snack.
Healthful inclusions may even help recast so-called junk food in a more positive light. Boston-based Unreal Brands has made a name for itself marketing “unjunked” candies that are stripped of objectionable ingredients like GMOs, gluten and trans fats. This fall, the company is launching Unreal Dark Chocolate Crispy Quinoa Peanut Butter Cups which contain crispy quinoa puffs for added crunch and healthfulness.
Inclusions like quinoa and flax are trendy right now, but how do consumers really feel about them? Earlier this year, Canadean asked consumers globally to rate 100 different ingredients as to whether or not they thought these ingredients would have a positive, negative or neutral impact on health. The results provide something of a pecking order for healthful inclusions.
Green tea was at the top of the heap globally with 84.3% of consumers believing it would have a positive impact on health. But American consumers gave whole grains the top nod and blueberry number two with 82.6% saying the latter has positive health properties. Almonds nailed down the number four spot.
One of the surprises of the survey was strong support for sprouted grains and seeds. With a 70% positive impact on health rating, sprouted grains and seeds are seen in a much more positive light than either quinoa (41.6%) or chia (34.1%). This suggests that sprouted grains could be an inclusion to watch going forward. The strong showing for blueberry with an 80.8% positive rating globally also suggests blue skies ahead.
Fruit inclusions that improve the nutritional profile of packaged food products could be a rich vein of future innovation. If so, that could be good news for Taura Natural Ingredients and its unique Mini’s product. Mini’s consists of tiny pieces of fruit roughly the size of a grain of quinoa. Because of their small size, they may be used in products like ultra-thin biscuits and thin chocolate tablets that may have been off-limits before.
Taura recently inked a deal with Welch’s to use the latter’s concord grape juice and puree to produce concentrated fruit pieces (though not in the Mini’s format) for a variety of applications including bars, baked foods and confectionery items. This development, combined with news of double-digit year-on-year sales growth for freeze dried fruit which may be used for everything from yogurt inclusions to ingredients for smoothies and salads indicates that real fruit could be ready for a bull run.
Fruit’s garden cousin – flowers – also has some intriguing possibilities. While technically not an inclusion, Fresh Origins Flower Crystals from San Marcos, Calif.-based Fresh Origins has the potential to move flowers into the inclusions discussion.
Fresh Origins’ new Flower Crystals are made from edible flowers combined with pure cane sugar to create colorful crystals that add flavor and texture to desserts, savory dishes and baked goods. Rose-flavored crystals have the sensual aroma of fresh roses and may be used to add flavor and crunch to chocolate, cupcakes, sorbet, and crème brulee. Fennel-flavored crystals can add an extra layer of flavor to desserts.
Fresh Origins Founder David Sasuga notes, “Flower Crystals were originally conceived for desserts, though we have found chefs using the crystals for savory dishes.” He adds that “the clean label trend is driving the floral flavors concept.”
One thing that is certain about inclusion innovation is that there is almost no certainty as to where the next creative development may come from.